Sunday, February 03, 2008

Coffin Street

Sibu did indeed have a Coffin Lane. It was the lane which faced the Lembangan River, which also flowed behind the Palace Theatre. The Coffin Lane supported four or five coffin makers. They therefore established their shops in the two story block which was perpendicular to the Central Road. This was after the bridge from Tiong Hua Road. The Fire Station was not far from them.

The business of course was frightening to us kids who cycled around the area. Sometimes we would cycle very fast past the bridge because we did not want to see the wooden coffins drying in the sun. They were reclined on the wars and those horrible looking wooden coffins with sharp ends seemed to be beckoning to us.

The men owning the coffin shops also looked very thin and scrawny and they looked like Chinese zombies to us, and of course, they did not have the Manchu robes.

These coffins were popular in the 1950's as every Chinese family would like to have a traditional funeral. The coffin would be carried by bamboo poles during the funeral procession around the town. This was considered very filial to the Chinese.

I suppose after the Chinese Communist Government banned the sales of coffin in China in 1949, ( to prevent ostentatious funerals and preserving land for other uses), the Chinese in Sibu also looked at more western coffins for their elders.

Coffins have never been sold openly in a busy street. Hence the Coffin Lane in Sibu at that time was very much "at the back" of the town.

Each coffin craftsman must have learnt his skills from his father. Perhaps at that time, they had used local meranti or other hardwood for the crafting of their coffins. I remember seeing pieces of wood drying in the lane. The wood would have been hollowed out and polished, mostly by hand. There would be one long plank for the bottom, two semi circular for the sides and a cover. According to an elder these planks were then carefully fitted together without the use of nails to form a coffin.

These coffins were about 200 straits dollars at that time if I am not mistaken. My grandfather's coffin during his funeral in 1963 was the traditional type and I thought that it was very expensive looking and very massive. I remember him "lying in state" while waiting for my uncles and aunts to return and his coffin was next to him on a raised platform.

Some how I also remember that some of the rich men had their own coffins ordered from Singapore years before they were dead!! I found this very morbid. And these coffins would be placed in their houses.

The Coffin Lane must have been completely removed when the Sarawak House was constructed. Where did these coffin craftsmen go perhaps some one could tell me. When modernity arrived in Sibu, this traditional craft disappeared without much fun fare.

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